“Fireflies” is a play rich with themes. Trust. Judgement. Certainty. Freedom. Dreams. Big ideas that resonate in all of our lives, just as they define the characters on stage. What I’m dying to know is how my friends and family connect with these themes, both in the play and in their own experience. Here are some juicy questions to dig into after you have seen the play:
1. Do you trust Abel (Denis Arndt), the drifter who just arrived in town? Which of his words and actions reveal his true nature to you?
2. What pieces of your past do you hang on to? Like the main character Eleanor (Jane Alexander) and the honeymoon cottage at the center of the play’s conflict, what physical objects are more than what they appear to be on the surface?
3. Which do you value more in your life: certainty or freedom? In other words, are you more of an Eleanor or an Abel?
Trust is complicated in this play and it is intertwined with suspicion and judgement. In Eleanor’s many years as a schoolteacher, she had few “students”—young people who loved learning and chased after knowledge—but plenty of “pupils,” those who merely went through the motions of school. In both a challenge and an attempt to plead his case, Abel asks, “Could you tell who was a student or a pupil on the first day of school, just by looking at them?” Because of the way he lives his life, Abel is constantly judged and distrusted as the outsider. He transgresses the unspoken boundaries of propriety and runs from expectations.
But even though I sympathize with Abel, the answer is no, I do not trust him.
Abel consistently insists, even demands, that Eleanor give him a chance, that she hear him out. And yet, she owes him nothing. The fact that Abel wants to fix the rental house or is interested in her doesn’t make Eleanor obligated to give him a chance. Both her property and her personal life are hers alone. He is upset because she doesn’t trust him, as if he is entitled to her trust. Trust is something that you earn. You purchase it with patience and constancy. It is a delicate structure built up piece by piece, not something you order fully assembled. Eleanor struggles to trust Abel, and I did too.
The second question is hard to answer, since I can be quite sentimental. However, a couple of small items stand out in my mind: a small brass bell and a decorative cup that my grandmother bought on one of her many trips to the Holy Land as a tour guide. Years after the trips, when my mother had finally coaxed the souvenirs onto a yard sale table, I rescued them. I was irresistibly drawn to the keepsakes, and I still hang on to them despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that my grandmother and I had such deep differences. They are a symbol of the ways in which I am actually like her: a traveler, a seeker of knowledge and wonder. A thinker, a leader, a teacher.
In this show, as in my own mind, freedom is linked to happiness and the pursuit of dreams, while certainty is associated with safety, stability and propriety. I definitely value freedom over certainty. I articulate my dreams and attempt to realize them. If I am unhappy, I make a change. I have always regretted the one life decision I made out of certainty rather than freedom: I impulsively chose a liberal arts path for college instead of the musical theater performance that was always my dream. I’ve spent my life chasing after that moment, trying to reconcile that decision.
As a part of the Community Ambassador program at Long Wharf, I can’t wait to bring a group to “Fireflies” this month so that they can enjoy and be enriched by the play. By presenting one woman’s journey in deep detail, “Fireflies” manages to turn the mirror on the viewers, leading us to question our own values, lives and choices—the highest purpose of the theater.
Leah Andelsmith is a writer living in New Haven. She loves the arts and finding magic in the everyday. This is her first season as a community ambassador for Long Wharf Theatre. You can find her on Facebook: facebook.com/leahandelsmith and on her website: leahandelsmith.wixsite.com/website.